Resources to prepare youth for the 21st century workforce

What are the skills employers are looking for and how can I gain them?

What are employers looking for in potential job candidates? Knowing the answer to this very important question can help a young person just starting out prepare for the workforce. Education, GPA, experience and skills can all play a factor in an employer’s decision to interview a potential candidate. However when it comes to hiring, it is often the individual who has sharpened their soft skills that is offered the job.

So what are soft skills? Soft skills are personal characteristics needed to become an effective employee such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, decision making, positive attitude, planning, organizing and prioritizing work. In the 2014 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey, these“soft skills were mentioned as the top characteristics looked for in a new hire by 206 employers responding. The number one soft skill rated as important to employers was the ability to work in a team structure.

How can young people sharpen their soft workforce-related skills such as teamwork? Joining a team sport, organizing a school fundraiser, participating in a 4-H club, holding a leadership position or engaging in a service learning project are just a few examples where youth can practice and enhance their soft skills. Youth can also participate in a new interactive workshop called, Preparing Youth for the 21st Century Workforce offered by Michigan State University Extension. Here youth will learn how the workforce has changed, what it means to be an effective team member, how to solve real life workplace scenarios, and tips to strengthen their communication and interpersonal skills.

Youth service professionals, teachers, business leaders and adult volunteers can also help by providing opportunities and involving youth in career and workforce readiness skill activities. “Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success," is a free curriculum published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) provides 30 hands-on interactive activities for youth 14- to 21-years-old, including those with disabilities. Six modules are covered focusing on the soft skills needed for workplace success.

Another career development resource for adults to use with youth is, “Build Your Future: Choices… Connections … Careers,” a National 4-H Curriculum written by MSU Extension. Using the experiential learning model, youth explore their interests, values and possible career pathways, make connections with prospective employers, research careers and post-secondary education, prepare for the job search, and set realistic goals.

Henry Ford once said, “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.” Preparing the 21st century workforce requires government, business, education, and the emerging workforce to work closely together so all partners can succeed.

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